At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

18 April 2019

18 April

Lucrezia Borgia – Pope’s daughter


Notorious blonde beauty inspired painters and poets

Lucrezia Borgia, the illegitimate daughter of Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI, was born on this day in 1480 in Subiaco near Rome.  A reputedly beautiful woman, she entered into arranged marriages to important men to advance her family’s political position and rumours have abounded about the fate of her first two husbands.  Macchiavelli wrote about the Borgia family in his book, The Prince, depicting Lucrezia as some kind of femme fatale and this characterisation of her, whether just or unjust, has lasted over the years, being reproduced in many works of art, books and films. Apart from her marriages, Lucrezia also had an affair with the poet, Pietro Bembo, with whom she exchanged love letters, which are now in the collection of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, along with a lock of her hair. Read more…

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Ilario Bandini - racing car maker


Farmer's son who created beautiful and successful cars

Ilario Bandini, a businessman and racing driver who went on construct some of Italy’s most beautiful racing cars, was born on this day in 1911 in Villa Rovere in Emilia-Romagna. His cars won races in Europe and America and his designs earned the respect of the great Italian performance car maker Enzo Ferrari.  Bandini was from a farming family but was fascinated with cars and motorcycles and began to work part-time as a mechanic while he was still at school, eventually becoming an apprentice in a workshop in nearly Forlì.  At the age of 25 he took the bold decision to move to Eritrea, then an Italian colony, in northern Africa, where he repaired trucks and in time set up a transport business, which was very successful.  The venture made him enough money to open a garage in Forlì. when he returned to Italy in 1939, running a repair workshop alongside a car rental and chauffeured limousine business. Read more…

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Ippolita Maria Sforza – noble woman


Learned lady sacrificed happiness for a political alliance

Ippolita Maria Sforza, a cultured young noblewoman who wrote poetry, letters and documents in Latin, was born on this day in 1446 in Cremona. She was married to Alfonso, Duke of Calabria, who later became King Alfonso II of Naples, because it was a politically advantageous alliance, but she did not live long enough to become his Queen consort.  Ippolita was the eldest daughter of Francesco I Sforza, Duke of Milan, and Bianca Maria Visconti.  She was tutored along with her six younger brothers and one younger sister by a Greek scholar who taught her philosophy and Greek.  When she was 14 years old she composed a Latin address for Pope Pius II, which became well known after it was circulated in manuscript form. She wrote many letters, which were published in Italy in one volume in 1893. She also wrote poetry and a Latin eulogy for her father, Francesco. Read more...

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17 April 2019

17 April

Giovanni Riccioli – astronomer


Jesuit priest had a crater on the moon named after him

Giovanni Battista Riccioli, a Jesuit priest who became one of the principal astronomers of the 17th century, was born on this day in 1598 in Ferrara. He was renowned for his experiments with pendulums and falling bodies and for his studies of the motion of the earth and the surface of the moon. Riccioli entered the Society of Jesus when he was 16 and after completing his training began studying the humanities. Between 1620 and 1628 he studied philosophy and theology at the Jesuit College in Parma, where he was taught by Giuseppe Biancani, who had accepted new ideas such as the existence of lunar mountains. After Riccioli was ordained he taught physics and metaphysics at Parma and engaged in experiments with falling bodies and pendulums. He is believed to be the first scientist to measure the rate of acceleration of a freely falling body. Read more…

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Graziella Sciutti - operatic soprano


Vivacious performer who became a successful director

The operatic soprano Graziella Sciutti, a singer known for a vivacious stage presence and engaging personality who excelled in the work of Mozart, Puccini and Verdi, was born on this day in 1927 in Turin.  Her early childhood was spent in Geneva in Switzerland before the family moved to Rome, so that she could attend the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, which is one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious musical institutions. Sciutti wanted to play the piano like her father but it became clear she had a notable voice and she caught the eye as a soloist when she was still a student.  She was asked at the last moment to appear in a performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, conducted by Herbert von Karajan. It was a daunting prospect, forced on her at short notice after another singer became ill, but she rose to the challenge and won accolades as a result.  Read more…

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Riccardo Patrese - racing driver


Former Williams ace was first in Formula One to start 250 races

The racing driver Riccardo Patrese, who for 15 years was the only Formula One driver to have started more than 250 Grand Prix races, was born on this day in 1954 in Padua.  The former Williams driver reached the milestone in the German Grand Prix of 1993, having three years earlier been the first to make 200 starts.  Patrese retired at the end of the 1993 season with his total on 256 and his  record of longevity was not surpassed until 2008, when the Brazilian driver Rubens Barrichello made his 257th start at the Turkish Grand Prix.  Ferrari ace Michael Schumacher passed 250 two years later and Patrese’s total has now been exceeded by six drivers, Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa having all joined the 250 club. Read more…

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16 April 2019

16 April

Felice Pedroni - prospector


Italian’s discovery sparked Fairbanks Gold Rush

The gold prospector known as Felix Pedro was born Felice Pedroni on this day in 1858 in the village of Trignano, near the small Apennine town of Fanano in Emilia-Romagna.  In July 1902, on or around the 22nd, Pedroni discovered gold in the Tanana Hills northeast of the fledgling town of Fairbanks, Alaska in a small, then unnamed stream (later to be called Pedro Creek).  Some claim that Pedroni was the prospector who, on his return to Fairbanks from his prospecting mission, uttered the famous words "There's gold in them there hills", although there are other accounts of where the phrase originated.  What does not seem to be disputed is that Pedroni’s discovery triggered what became known as the Fairbanks Gold Rush as more than 1,000 other gold diggers flooded the area. Read more…

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Antonio Starabba Marchese di Rudini – Prime Minister


Bloodshed in Milan marred liberal premiere’s time in office

Political leader Antonio Starabba, Marchese di Rudini, who twice served as prime minister of Italy, was born on this day in 1839 in Palermo in Sicily.  During his second term in office, Di Rudini’s Government passed social legislation to create an obligatory workmen’s compensation scheme and a fund for disability and old age pensions but they were also blamed for the army’s brutal treatment of rioters in Milan.  Di Rudini was born into an aristocratic but liberal Sicilian family and grew up to join the revolutionaries in Sicily.  He became Mayor of Palermo and successfully resisted the opponents of national unity. He was then promoted to Prefect and given the task of suppressing the brigands in Sicily.  After entering parliament, Di Rudini became leader of the right wing but when he became premiere in 1891 he formed a coalition with the left and began economic reforms. Read more…

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Adelaide del Vasto – Countess of Sicily


Prudent ruler who looked after Sicily for her young sons

Adelaide del Vasto, who served as regent of Sicily during the 12th century, died on this day in 1118 in Sicily.  One historian described her as ‘a prudent woman’ and a Greek and Arab document listed Adelaide – known in Italian as Adelasia - as ‘a great female ruler and protector of the Christian faith’. Born in Piedmont, Adelaide was from an important family with branches that ruled Liguria and Turin. She became the third wife of Roger I of Sicily in 1089. When he died in 1101 she became regent of Sicily for her young sons, Simon and Roger II, when she was about 26.  After rebellions broke out in parts of Calabria and Sicily, Adelaide dealt with them severely, but this did not tarnish her reputation as a good ruler.  Adelaide’s eldest son, Simon, was enthroned at about the age of nine but he died in 1105 leaving her as regent again until Roger II became old enough to take control. During her regency Palermo officially became capital of the Kingdom of Sicily. Read more…

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Fortunino Matania - artist and illustrator


War artist famous also for images of British history

Chevalier Fortunino Matania, a prodigiously talented artist who became known as one of the greatest magazine illustrators in publishing history, was born on this day in 1881 in Naples.  Matania made his name largely in England, where in 1904 he joined the staff of The Sphere, the illustrated news magazine that was founded in London in 1900 in competition with The Graphic and the Illustrated London News.  The use of photography on a commercial scale was in its infancy and artists who could work under deadline pressure to produce high-quality, realistic images to accompany news stories were in big demand.  Matania’s best known work was from the battlegrounds of the First World War but he also covered every major event - marriages, christenings, funerals and state occasions - from the coronation of Edward VII in 1902 to that of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.  He produced illustrations of the Sinking of the Titanic for The Sphere. Read more…


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Felice Pedroni - prospector

Italian’s discovery sparked Fairbanks Gold Rush


Felice Pedroni, a photograph taken in Alaska  in the early 20th century
Felice Pedroni, a photograph taken in Alaska
in the early 20th century
The gold prospector known as Felix Pedro was born Felice Pedroni on this day in 1858 in the village of Trignano, near the small Apennine town of Fanano in Emilia-Romagna.

In July 1902, on or around the 22nd, Pedroni discovered gold in the Tanana Hills northeast of the fledgling town of Fairbanks, Alaska in a small, then unnamed stream (later to be called Pedro Creek).

Some claim that Pedroni was the prospector who, on his return to Fairbanks from his prospecting mission, uttered the famous words "There's gold in them there hills", although there are other accounts of where the phrase originated.

What does not seem to be disputed is that Pedroni’s discovery triggered what became known as the Fairbanks Gold Rush as more than 1,000 other gold diggers flooded the area.

Brought up in a family of subsistence farmers in Trignano, Pedroni was the youngest of six brothers. He left Italy in 1881 after the death of his father. He moved first to France, then took the bold decision to board a steamship to America.

After disembarking in New York City, where he was registered as Felix Pedro, he found work as a labourer but, having heard about the gold in Alaska and was determined to get there. As soon as he had saved enough money, Pedroni moved on, first to Ohio, then Washington State, British Columbia and Yukon, each time taking a job and biding his time until he could afford to move on. He became an American citizen in 1888.

Fairbanks quickly developed as a city with the wealth  generated by the gold rush sparked by Pedroni's find
Fairbanks quickly developed as a city with the wealth
generated by the gold rush sparked by Pedroni's find
Once in Alaska, Pedroni panned for gold in the Fortymile, the Piledriver Slough and various other waterways, including the 'Lost Creek' in which Pedroni and his partner, Tom Gilmore, claimed to have found a sizable amount of gold in 1898, but were forced to abandon due to lack of food.
Despite marking the spot and searching for it for the next three years, they were unable to find it again.

It was while trying to locate the creek that they were drawn to the camp that would become Fairbanks after seeing plumes of smoke from a steamboat. They dropped down from the hills above the settlement, stocked up with supplies and returned to their search.

This time they did find gold, in the Tanana Hills, northeast of Fairbanks.

Pedroni died in July, 1910 at age 52 at St. Joseph's Hospital in Fairbanks - which by then had grown rapidly to be the largest city in Alaska - reportedly of a heart attack.

This was later disputed by business partner Vincenzo Gambiani, who suspected Pedroni's Irish wife, Mary Ellen Doran, of poisoning him.

The inscription on Felice Pedroni's simple grave in Fanano, the town near his birthplace in Emilia-Romagna
The inscription on Felice Pedroni's simple grave in Fanano,
the town near his birthplace in Emilia-Romagna
Pedroni had intended to marry an Italian girl and, in fact, returned to Italy in 1906 a wealthy man, in search of a bride. He thought he had found one in Egle Zanetti, a young teacher from Lizzano in Belvedere with whom he fell in love. She turned down his proposal, however, and returned to Alaska, heartbroken.

By contrast, Mary Doran was said to be a saloon girl of loose morals. Gambiani believed she killed Pedroni so that she might inherit his fortune.

Pedroni’s body was initially shipped to Colma, near San Francisco, to be buried, which is where it remained until October, 1972, when it was found, exhumed, and moved to Italy to be re-interred in Fanano. First, however, some hair samples were tested, the results of which reportedly supported the theory that Pedroni had been murdered.

Today, Pedroni is remembered in Alaska as one of the founding fathers of Fairbanks. In 1947, the Felice Pedroni Monument was erected on the Steese Highway north of Fairbanks, near what is still known as Pedro Creek. The annual Fairbanks Golden Days celebration always begins with a rededication of the monument.

The countryside of the Valle di Ospitale, close to Fanano in the Frignano regional park in Emilia-Romagna
The countryside of the Valle di Ospitale, close to Fanano
in the Frignano regional park in Emilia-Romagna
Travel tip:

Fanano is a town of some 2,500 inhabitants within the Regional Park of the Modenese High Apennines, otherwise known as the Frignano regional park, a rich and colourful natural area of lakes and mountains maintained for the growth and preservation of rare species, animals and plants. The park covers 15 thousand hectares, rising to a height of 2,165 metres (7,100 feet) at the summit of Monte Cimone. Among the several rare species to be found in the park are Alpine Marmots and Apennine Wolves. The area is popular for mountain biking, trekking and orienteering, and snow tracking in the winter. Fanano itself is close to the lakes of Scaffaiolo and Pratignano and the Passo della Croce Arcana, an alpine pass at 1,669m (5,475ft) between outlying areas of Fanano and Cutigliano.

The Ducal Palace in Modena, which dates back to 1635, was once the most sumptuous palace in Europe
The Ducal Palace in Modena, which dates back to 1635, was
once the most sumptuous palace in Europe
Travel tip:

Fanano is just over 60km (37 miles) from the city of Modena, which is well known for a variety of reasons, as a centre of the car industry - Ferrari, De Tomaso, Lamborghini, Pagani and Maserati all have connections with the city - the home of balsamic vinegar, and the birthplace of the great tenor, Luciano Pavarotti. One of the main sights in Modena is the huge, baroque Ducal Palace, which was begun by Francesco I d’Este, Duke of Modena, on the site of a former castle in 1635. His architect, Luigi Bartolomeo Avanzini, created a home for him that few European princes could match at the time. The palace is now home to the Italian national military academy. In the Galleria Estense, on the upper floor of the Palazzo dei Musei in Modena, there is a  one-metre high bust of Francesco by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

More reading:

The Italian origins of San Francisco's Ghirardelli Chocolate Company

How Gaetano Merola founded the San Francisco Opera

Carlo Camillo di Rudio - the Italian aristocrat who fought in the Battle of Little Bighorn

Also on this day:

1118: The death of Adelaide del Vasto, Countess of Sicily

1839: The birth of politician Antonio Di Rudini, twice Italy's prime minister

1881: The birth of magazine artist Fortunino Matania


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15 April 2019

15 April

Leonardo da Vinci – painter and inventor


Artist regarded as most talented individual ever to have lived

Leonardo da Vinci, painter, draftsman, sculptor, architect and engineer, was born on this day in 1452 near Vinci in Tuscany. Leonardo’s genius epitomises the Renaissance ideal of possessing all round accomplishments and his wall painting of the Last Supper and his portrait of the Mona Lisa are among the most popular and influential artworks of all time. His surviving notebooks reveal a spirit of scientific enquiry and a mechanical inventiveness that were centuries ahead of their time. Leonardo was apprenticed to Andrea del Verrocchio in Florence when he was 15, in whose workshop he was trained in painting and sculpting. There are many superb pen and pencil drawings still in existence from this period, including sketches of military weapons and apparatus.  Read more…

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Filippo Brunelleschi – architect


Genius who designed the largest brick dome ever constructed

One of the founding fathers of the Renaissance, Filippo Brunelleschi, died on this day in 1446 in Florence. He is remembered for developing a technique for linear perspective in art and for building the dome of Florence Cathedral. His achievements also included sculpture, mathematics, engineering and ship design. Brunelleschi was born in 1377 in Florence. According to his biographer, Antonio Manetti, and the historian Giorgio Vasari, Filippo was enrolled in the silk merchants guild, which also included goldsmiths and metal workers, and he became a master goldsmith in 1398.  Brunelleschi’s first architectural commission was the Ospedale degli Innocenti (Foundling Hospital) in Florence. In 1418, he won competition to design the dome of the new cathedral in Florence, Santa Maria del Fiore. The dome, still the largest brick-built dome in the world, would take up most of the rest of Brunelleschi’s life and its success has been attributed to his technical and mathematical genius. Read more…

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Jacopo Riccati – mathematician


Venetian nobleman who was fascinated by Maths

Respected mathematician Jacopo Francesco Riccati, who had an equation named after him, died on this day in 1754 in Treviso. He had devoted his life to the study of mathematical analysis, turning down many prestigious academic posts offered to him. He is chiefly remembered for the Riccati differential equation, which he spent many years studying. Riccati was born in 1676 in Venice. His father, Conte Montino Riccati, was from a noble family of landowners and his mother was from the powerful Colonna family. His father died when Riccati was only ten years old, leaving him a large estate at Castelfranco Veneto. After receiving a doctorate in law in 1696 be began to study mathematical analysis. He was invited to Russia by Peter the Great to be president of the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences, also to Vienna to be an imperial councillor, and he was offered a professorship at the University of Padua, but he declined them all, preferring to remain on his estate with his family studying on his own. Read more...

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14 April 2019

14 April

Gianni Rodari - children’s author


Writer whose books reflect the struggles of the lower classes in society

Writer and journalist Gianni Rodari, who became famous for creating Cipollino, a children’s book character, died on this day in 1980 in Rome. Regarded as the best modern writer for children in Italian, Rodari had been awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for children’s literature in 1970, which gained him an international reputation. Cipollino, which means Little Onion, fought the unjust treatment of his fellow vegetable characters by the fruit royalty, such as Prince Lemon and the overly proud Tomato, in the garden kingdom. The main themes of the stories are the struggle of the underclass against the powerful, good versus evil and the importance of friendship in the face of difficulties. Read more…

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Lamberto Dalla Costa -- Olympic bobsleigh champion


Fighter pilot who became first Italian to win a Gold medal

Lamberto Dalla Costa, part of the team that brought Italy its first gold medal for Olympic bobsleigh, was born on this day in 1920 in Crespano del Grappa, a small town in the Veneto. Dalla Costa was an adventurous individual with a passion for flying. He joined the Italian Air Force as a volunteer during World War Two and became a combat pilot who rose eventually to the rank of air marshall.  When Italy was chosen to host the 1956 Winter Olympics at Cortina d'Ampezzo they was a tradition of looking towards the military to provide the crews for the bobsleigh events and Dalla Costa was selected, even though he had never been involved with high-level competitive sport, after demonstrating the right level of skill and discipline. Read more...

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Girolamo Riario - papal military leader


Assassinated after failed attempt to unseat Medici family

Girolamo Riario, the 15th century governor of Imola and Forlì who was part of a major plot to displace the powerful Medici family as rulers of Florence, was assassinated on this day in 1488. Riario, a nephew of Pope Sixtus IV who had appointed him Captain General of the Church, was unpopular with his subjects as a result of imposing high taxes, but his murder was thought to be an attempt by the noble Orsi family of Forlì to seize control of the city. Two members of the family, Checco and Ludovico, led a group of assassins armed with swords into government palace, where Riario was set upon.  Despite the presence of guards, Riario was stabbed and slashed repeatedly.  Eventually, his dead body was left in a local piazza, surrounded by a crowd celebrating his demise, as the Orsi brothers and their gang looted the palace. Read more...

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Gasparo da Salò – violin maker


Founder of the Brescian school of stringed instrument craftsmen

One of Italy’s earliest violin makers, Gasparo da Salò, died on this day in 1609 in Brescia. He developed the art of string making to a high level and his surviving instruments are still admired and revered. Da Salò was born Gasparo Bertolotti in Salò, a resort on Lake Garda in 1542. His father and uncle were violinists and composers and his cousin, Bernardino, was a violinist at the Este court in Ferrara and at the Gonzaga court in Mantua. Bertolotti received a good musical education and was referred to as ‘a talented violone player’ in a 1604 document about the music at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo. Bertolotti moved to Brescia on the death of his father and set up shop in an area where there were other instrument makers. He became known as Gasparo da Salò and his workshop quickly became one of the most important in Europe. Read more...


Gianni Rodari - children’s author

Writer whose books reflect the struggles of the lower classes in society


Gianni Rodari originally trained to be a schoolteacher
Gianni Rodari originally trained to
be a schoolteacher 
Writer and journalist Gianni Rodari, who became famous for creating Cipollino, a children’s book character, died on this day in 1980 in Rome.

Regarded as the best modern writer for children in Italian, Rodari had been awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for children’s literature in 1970, which gained him an international reputation.

Cipollino, which means Little Onion, fought the unjust treatment of his fellow vegetable characters by the fruit royalty, such as Prince Lemon and the overly proud Tomato, in the garden kingdom.

The main themes of the stories are the struggle of the underclass against the powerful, good versus evil and the importance of friendship in the face of difficulties.

Rodari was born in 1920 in Omegna, a small town on Lake Orta in the province of Novara in northern Italy.

His father died when he was ten years old and Rodari and his two brothers were brought up by their mother in her native village of Gavirate near Varese.

Rodari trained to be a teacher and received his diploma when he was 17. He began to teach elementary classes in rural schools around Varese.

Rodari's character Cippolino, with  Prince Lemon and Tomato
Rodari's character Cippolino, with
Prince Lemon and Tomato
During the Second World War his poor health prevented him from serving in the army but he was forced to join the National Fascist Party to get work.

The shock of losing his two best friends and discovering that his favourite brother, Cesare, had been sent to a German concentration camp led Rodari to join the Italian Communist Party and join the resistance movement.

He had become interested in the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky when he was a young man and after the war he worked for the Communist newspaper, L’Unità, as a journalist.

The Communist Party later made him editor of a new, weekly children’s magazine, Il Pionere.

Rodari published his first books, Il Libro delle Filastrocche and Il Romanzo di Cipollino, in 1951.

He married Maria Teresa Feretti in 1953 and four years later they had a daughter, Paola.

He began making regular trips to the Soviet Union and continued to write for children until the 1970s. Rodari became ill after returning from the Soviet Union in 1979 and died the following year after undergoing an operation in Rome.

Omegna is on the shores of Lake Orta in northeast  Piedmont, about 100km (62 miles) from Turin
Omegna is on the shores of Lake Orta in northeast
Piedmont, about 100km (62 miles) from Turin
Travel tip:

Omegna, where Rodari was born, is a town in the province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola in Piedmont. At 100km (62 miles) northeast of Turin, it is situated at the northernmost point of Lake Orta, which is reputed to be one of Italy’s prettiest small lakes. During the Second World War, Omegna was a centre of partisan resistance against the German-Fascist occupation. For many years the main centre for production of pots and small home appliances in Italy.

Gavirate, 55km (34 miles) north of Milan, is situated on the shore of Lake Varese
Gavirate, 55km (34 miles) north of Milan, is situated
on the shore of Lake Varese
Travel tip:

Rodari and his brothers were brought up in Gavirate, a village near Varese, which is a city in north western Lombardy, situated 55 km (34 miles) north of Milan. Overlooking Lake Varese, the city is home to the Sacro Monte di Varese, the sacred mountain of Varese, a place of pilgrimage and worship and one of the Sacri Monti of Piedmont and Lombardy included on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

More reading:

How a painful childhood inspired the verse of Giovanni Pascoli

The first Montessori school opens in Rome

Giulio Einaudi, the publisher who defied the Fascists

Also on this day:

1488: The assassination of papal military leader Girolamo Riario

1609: The death of violin maker Gasparo da Salò

1920: The birth of Olympic bobsleigh champion Lamberto della Costa


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13 April 2019

13 April

Roberto Calvi – banker


Mystery remains over bizarre death of bank chairman

Roberto Calvi, dubbed ‘God’s Banker’ by the Press because of his close association with the Vatican, was born on this day in 1920 in Milan. In 1982 his body was found hanging from scaffolding beneath Blackfriars Bridge in London. His death is a mystery that has never been satisfactorily solved and it has been made the subject of many books and films. Calvi was the chairman of the failed Banco Ambrosiano in Milan, which had direct links to Pope John Paul II through his bodyguard, Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, who was head of the Vatican Bank, which had shares in Ambrosiano. Calvi had been missing for nine days before his body was found by a passer-by in London. At first police treated his death as suicide but in October 2002, forensic experts commissioned by an Italian court finally concluded Calvi had been murdered. Read more…

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Antonio Meucci - inventor of the telephone


Engineer from Florence was 'true' father of communications

Antonio Meucci, the Italian engineer who was acknowledged 113 years after his death to be the true inventor of the telephone, was born on this day in 1808 in Florence. Until Vito Fossella, a Congressman from New York, asked the House of Representatives to recognise that the credit should have gone to Meucci, it was the Scottish-born scientist Alexander Graham Bell who was always seen as father of modern communications. Yet Meucci’s invention was demonstrated in public 16 years before Bell took out a patent for his device. This was part of the evidence Fossella submitted to the House, which prompted a resolution in June, 2002, that the wealth and fame that Bell enjoyed were based on a falsehood. Read more…

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Giannino Marzotto - racing driver


Double Mille Miglia winner from a famous family

Giannino Marzotto, a racing driver who twice won the prestigious Mille Miglia and finished fifth at Le Mans, was born on this day in 1928 in Valdagno, a town situated in the mountains about 30km (19 miles) northwest of Vicenza. He was the great, great grandson of Luigi Marzotto, who in 1836 opened a woollen factory that evolved into the Marzotto Group, one of Italy’s largest textile manufacturers. With this wealthy background, Giannino was able to indulge his passion for cars.  With the support of Enzo Ferrari, Giannino and three of his brothers - Vittorio, Umberto and Paolo - entered the 1950 Mille Miglia, the historic endurance test over 1,000 Roman miles (about 1,500km) from Brescia to Rome and back, and scored an improbable victory.  Marzotto scored a hit with the Italian public not just for his skill behind the wheel but for his insistence on competing in a double-breasted brown suit.  Read more...

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12 April 2019

12 April

Giorgio Cantarini - actor


Child star of Oscar-winning Life Is Beautiful

Giorgio Cantarini, who delivered an award-winning performance in the triple Oscar-winning movie Life Is Beautiful when he was just five years old, was born on this day in 1992 in Orvieto. Cantarini was cast as Giosuè, the four-year-old son of Roberto Benigni’s character, Guido, in the 1997 film, which brought Academy Awards for Benigni as Best Actor and, as the director, for Best Foreign Film. For his own part, Cantarini was rewarded for a captivating performance in the poignant story with a Young Artist award. Three years later, in Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning blockbuster Gladiator, Cantarini was given another coveted part as the son of Russell Crowe’s character, Maximus. Cantarini went to an audition for the part of Giosuè after an uncle read a description in a newspaper article of the kind of child Benigni wanted and told him he was a perfect match. Read more…

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Marcello Lippi - World Cup winning coach


Former Juventus manager also won the Champions League

Marcello Lippi, one of Italy's most successful football managers and a World Cup winner in 2006, was born on this day in 1948 in Viareggio on the Tuscan coast, where he still lives. Lippi, who as Juventus coach won five Serie A titles and the Champions League before taking the reins of the national team, subsequently had a successful career in China, where his Guangzhou Evergrande team won three Chinese Super League championships and the Asian Champions League. He is the only manager to have won both the European Champions League and the Asian Champions League. After winning his third league title with Guangzhou in November 2015 he announced his retirement, claiming he was too old to continue coaching.  He stayed at the club as director of football but resigned from that position the following February. Read more...

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Flavio Briatore - entrepreneur


From clothing to luxury resorts via Formula One

The colourful and controversial entrepreneur Flavio Briatore was born on this day in 1950 in Verzuolo, a large village in the Italian Alps near Saluzzo in Piedmont. Briatore is best known for his association with the Benetton clothing brand and, through their sponsorship, Formula One motor racing, but his business interests have extended well beyond the High Street and the race track. His empire includes his exclusive Sardinian beach club Billionaire, Twiga beach clubs in Tuscany and Apulia, the Lion under the Sun spa resort in Kenya, the upmarket Sumosan, Twiga and Cipriani restaurants, and the Billionaire Couture menswear line. Briatore was also for three years co-owner with former F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone and steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal of the English football club Queen’s Park Rangers. Read more…

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Caffarelli – opera singer


Tempestuous life of a talented male soprano

The castrato singer who performed under the stage name of Caffarelli was born Gaetano Maiorano on this day in 1710 in Bitonto in the province of Bari in Apulia. Caffarelli had a reputation for being temperamental and for fighting duels with little provocation, but he was popular with audiences and was able to amass a large fortune for himself. It is thought that his stage name, Caffarelli, may have been taken from his teacher, Caffaro, who gave him music lessons when he was a child. When Maiorano was ten years old he was given the income from two vineyards owned by his grandmother to enable him to study music. The legal document drawn up mentioned that the young boy wished to be castrated and become a eunuch. Maiorano became a pupil of Nicola Porpora, the composer and singing teacher, who is reputed to have told him eventually there was no more he could be taught because he was the greatest singer in Europe. Read more…

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Giorgio Cantarini - actor

Child star of Oscar-winning Life Is Beautiful


Cantarini's performance as Roberto Benigni's son in Life Is Beautiful captivated cinema audienced
Cantarini's performance as Roberto Benigni's son in Life Is
Beautiful
captivated cinema audienced
Giorgio Cantarini, who delivered an award-winning performance in the triple Oscar-winning movie Life Is Beautiful when he was just five years old, was born on this day in 1992 in Orvieto.

Cantarini was cast as Giosuè, the four-year-old son of Roberto Benigni’s character, Guido, in the 1997 film, which brought Academy Awards for Benigni as Best Actor and, as the director, for Best Foreign Film. For his own part, Cantarini was rewarded for a captivating performance in the poignant story with a Young Artist award.

Three years later, in Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning blockbuster Gladiator, Cantarini was given another coveted part as the son of Russell Crowe’s character, Maximus.

Born to parents who separated soon after his fifth birthday, Cantarini went to an audition for the part of Giosuè after an uncle read a description in a newspaper article of the kind of child Benigni wanted and told him he was a perfect match.

Cantarini remains a close friend of the director Roberto Benigni (above)
Cantarini remains a close friend of
the director Roberto Benigni (above)
Cantarini recalled in an interview in 2018 that the audition consisted simply of a conversation with Benigni, with no acting involved. Once shooting began, he was told what to do on a scene-by-scene basis.

Despite the success of Life Is Beautiful and Gladiator, and the acclaim he received, Cantarini went back to school with no thought of becoming an actor when he grew up. His ambition was to become a footballer. Once he was in high school, however, his friends and teachers convinced him he should not let his acting talent go to waste.

After appearing in a small number of films and tv dramas - plus an appearance on the the popular tv show Ballando con le Stelle - he joined hundreds of hopefuls in applying for a place at the prestigious Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia - the national film school - in Rome and to his surprise and delight was accepted as one of just six boys and six girls to be admitted in 2012.

After graduation, he was immediately cast in the lead role of AUS- adotta uno studente - Adopt a Student - the first online-only series produced by Rai.

Following a period working in Paris, he returned to Italy in 2016 to perform, direct and produce Harold Pinter's play The Dumb Waiter for theatres in Rome and Vicenza, in collaboration with his friend and colleague, Miguel Gobbo Diaz.

Giorgio Cantarini today
Giorgio Cantarini today
In 2017, he played the lead role in Il dottore dei pesci - The Fish Doctor - an Italo-American short film directed by Susanna Della Sala, which was presented at numerous film festivals in Europe and Canada.

At the beginning of 2018 he moved to New York to study at the New York Film Academy and later in the year  was selected for the cast of Lamborghini - the Legend, directed by Bobby Moresco, filmed in Italy and starring Antonio Banderas and Alec Baldwin.

Cantarini’s home in Italy is in Viterbo in Lazio, where his mother and brother Lorenzo live. He remains in touch with Roberto Benigni, who provided a reference for his application for a visa to work in the United States.

Travel tip:

Orvieto, where Cantarini was born, is a small city in Umbria with a population of just 20,000, built on the top of a cliff of volcanic tuff stone. Surrounded by defensive walls built by the Etruscans, it makes an imposing sight. Situated about 120km (75 miles) north of Rome, it boasts one of Italy’s finest cathedrals in Italy - the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta - with a stunningly beautiful Romanesque Gothic facade inlaid with gold mosaics fronting a building constructed from alternate layers of black and white marble.  The city’s medieval streets are known as a cultural paradise - busy with cafés and restaurants, bookshops, artisans' workshops and antique emporia.

Travel tip:

Viterbo, where Cantarini now lives when in Italy, is the largest town in northern Lazio, situated about 80km (50 miles) north of Rome. It is regarded as one of the best preserved medieval towns in Italy, with many buildings in the San Pellegrino quarter featuring external staircases. The town’s impressive Palazzo dei Papi, was used as the papal palace for about 20 years during the 13th century. Completed in about 1266, the palace has a large audience hall, which connects with a loggia raised above street level by a barrel vault.

More reading:

How Life Is Beautiful turned Roberto Benigni into a household name

Dino De Laurentiis – the Campanian pasta seller helped make Italian cinema famous 

The brilliance of Life Is Beautiful cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli

Also on this day:

1710: The birth of the famed castrato opera singer Caffarelli

1948: The birth of World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi

1950: The birth of controversial entrepreneur Flavio Briatore



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11 April 2019

11 April

Primo Levi - Auschwitz survivor


Celebrated writer killed in fall in Turin

Primo Levi, an Auschwitz survivor who wrote a number of books chronicling his experiences of the Holocaust, died on this day in Turin in 1987.  He was 67 years old and his body was found at the foot of a stairwell in the apartment building where he lived, having seemingly fallen from the third floor. A chemist by profession, Levi died in the same building in which he was born in July 1919, in Corso Re Umberto in the Crocetta district of the northern Italian city.  Apart from his periods of incarceration, he lived in the same apartment, a gift from his father to his mother, almost all his life. His death was officially recorded as suicide, the verdict supported by his son's statement that his father had suffered from depression in the months leading to his death.  Read more…

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Rachele Mussolini - wife of Il Duce


Marriage survived 30 years despite dictator's infidelity

Rachele Mussolini, the woman who stayed married to Italy’s former Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini for 30 years despite his simultaneous relationship with his mistress, Clara Petacci, and numerous affairs, was born on this day in 1890. The daughter of Agostino Guidi, a peasant farmer, and Anna Lombardi, she was born, like Benito Mussolini, in Predappio, a small town in what is now Emilia-Romagna.  They met for the first time when the future self-proclaimed Duce had a temporary teaching job at her school. They were married in December 1915 in a civil ceremony in Treviglio, near Milan, although by that time she had been his mistress for several years, having given birth to his eldest daughter, Edda, in 1910.  Mussolini had actually married another woman, Ida Dalser, in 1914 but the marriage had broken down despite her bearing him a son. Read more...

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Battle of Ravenna


Thousands die in pointless conflict of the Italian Wars

French forces inflicted appalling casualties upon a largely Spanish Holy League army on this day in 1512 at Molinaccio just outside Ravenna. The French, under the command of their brilliant 21-year-old leader Gaston de Foix, had taken Brescia in Lombardy by storm in February and then marched on Ravenna intending to provoke the papal Holy League army into battle. It was estimated that the French lost 4,500 men and the Holy League 9,000 in this battle, part of the War of the League of Cambrai, which took place during the long period of the Italian Wars. The victory failed to help the French secure northern Italy and they were forced to withdraw from the region entirely by August of the same year. De Foix himself was killed. Read more…

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10 April 2019

10 April

Agostino Bertani - physician and politician


Compassionate doctor was Garibaldi’s friend and strategist

Agostino Bertani, who worked with Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi to liberate Italy, died on this day in 1886 in Rome. He had been a surgeon in Garibaldi’s corps in the Austro-Sardinian War of 1859 and personally treated Garibaldi’s wounds after the military leader lost the Battle of Aspromonte in 1862 and eventually would become one of his major strategists in planning the historic Expedition of the Thousand, the military operation that would eventually unite the peninsula. Bertani became a hero to the Italian people for his work organising ambulances and medical services during Garibaldi’s campaigns and he became a close friend to the military leader.  Read more...

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From Rome to the North Pole

Aeronautical history launched from Ciampino airport

On this day in 1926, an airship took off from Ciampino airport in Rome on the first leg of what would be an historic journey culminating in the first flight over the North Pole. The expedition was the brainchild of the Norwegian polar explorer and expedition leader Roald Amundsen, but the pilot was the airship's designer, aeronautical engineer Umberto Nobile, who had an Italian crew. They were joined in the project by millionaire American explorer Lincoln Ellsworth who, along with the Aero Club of Norway, financed the trip which was known as the Amundsen-Ellsworth 1926 Transpolar Flight.  The trip was fraught with difficulties but eventually the airship crossed the pole on May 11. Read more…

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Giovanni Aldini - physicist


Professor thought to given Mary Shelley the idea for Frankenstein

The physicist and professor Giovanni Aldini, whose experiment in trying to bring life to a human corpse is thought to have inspired Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, was born on this day in 1762 in Bologna. The nephew of Luigi Galvani, who discovered the phenomenon that became known as galvinism, one of Aldini’s goals in life was to build on his uncle’s work in the field of bioelectricity. Galvani’s discovery that the limbs of a dead frog could be made to move by the stimulation of electricity sparked an intellectual argument with his rival physicist Alessandro Volta. Aldini essentially picked up his uncle’s mantle and was determined to discover whether the effect of an electrical impulse on the body of a frog could be reproduced in a human being. His most famous experiment came in 1803, when he was given permission to test his electrical equipment on the corpse of George Forster shortly after he had been hanged at Newgate Prison in London. Read more…

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The Moby Prince disaster


Tragic toll of collision between ferry and tanker

The worst maritime catastrophe to occur in Italian waters in peacetime took place on this day in 1991 when a car ferry collided with an oil tanker near the harbour entrance at Livorno on the coast of Tuscany. The collision sparked a fire that claimed the lives of 140 passengers and crew and left only one survivor. The vessels involved were the MV Moby Prince, a car ferry en route from Liverno to Olbia, the coastal city in north-east Sardinia, and the 330-metres long oil tanker, Agip Abruzzo. The ferry departed Livorno shortly after 22.00 for a journey scheduled to last eight and a half hours but had been under way for only a few minutes when it struck the Agip Abruzzo, which was at anchor near the harbour mouth. Read more…

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Agostino Bertani – physician and politician

Compassionate doctor was Garibaldi’s friend and strategist


Agostino Bertani was a hero for tending to the wounds of Garibaldi's soldiers
Agostino Bertani was a hero for tending
to the wounds of Garibaldi's soldiers
Agostino Bertani, who worked with Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi to liberate Italy, died on this day in 1886 in Rome.

He had been a surgeon in Garibaldi’s corps in the Austro-Sardinian War of 1859 and personally treated Garibaldi’s wounds after the military leader lost the Battle of Aspromonte in 1862.

Bertani became a hero to the Italian people for his work organising ambulances and medical services during Garibaldi’s campaigns and he became a close friend and strategist to the military leader.

Born in Milan in 1812, Bertani's family had many friends with liberal ideals and his mother took part in anti-Austrian conspiracies.

At the age of 23, Bertani graduated from the faculty of medicine at the Borromeo College in Pavia and became an assistant to the professor of surgery there.

He took part in the 1848 uprising in Milan and directed a military hospital for Italian casualties. He organised an ambulance service for soldiers defending Rome in 1849 and distinguished himself by his service in Genoa with Mazzini during the cholera epidemic of 1854.

In 1860 Bertani was one of the strategists who planned the attack on Sicily and Naples known as the Expedition of the Thousand.

Bertani was one of the strategists who planned the Expedition of the Thousand
Bertani was one of the strategists who
planned the Expedition of the Thousand
Bertani became Garibaldi’s secretary general after the occupation of Naples in 1860. While serving in this role he reorganised the police and planned the sanitary reconstruction of the city.

He organised the medical service for Garibaldi’s 40,000 and fought in the Battle of Mentana in 1867 during Garibaldi’s march on Rome, even though he had been opposed to the campaign.

Bertani became leader of the extreme left in the new Italian parliament established in 1861. He founded La Riforma, a journal advocating social reforms, and launched an inquiry into the sanitary conditions of ordinary people. It was Bertani who prepared the sanitary code adopted by the administration of Francesco Crispi.

In 1885, along with Anna Maria Mozzoni, a journalist and social reformer, he visited the anarchist Giovanni Passannante in prison. Passannante had attempted to kill King Umberto I but had failed. Originally condemned to death, his sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment.

Passannante was kept in solitary conferment in a tiny cell in Portoferraio on the island of Elba. The inhuman conditions he was kept in eventually drove him insane.

Bertani and Mozzoni reported on Passannante’s maltreatment and after an examination by doctors the anarchist was transferred to the asylum of Montelupo Fiorentino, although doctors there were unable to reverse his poor condition.

Bertani continued to serve in the Italian parliament until his death the following year at the age of 73 in Rome.

The statue of Bertani
in Milan
Travel tip:

There are streets named in honour of Agostino Bertani all over Italy and in his home town of Milan there is a monument to him in Piazza Fratelli Bandiera, near the historic gateway of Porta Venezia. In its present form, the gate dates back to the 19th century; nevertheless, its origins can be traced back to the Medieval and even the Roman walls of the city. The surrounding streets are often referred to as the Porta Venezia district.

The storming of the Roman walls at Porta Pia that enabled Garibaldi to declare the unification of Italy complete
The storming of the Roman walls at Porta Pia that enabled
Garibaldi to declare the unification of Italy complete
Travel tip:

Italy was officially declared united after crack infantry troops from Piedmont entered Rome on 20 September 1870 after briefly bombarding defending French troops. They got through Rome’s ancient walls near the gate of Porta Pia. A marble plaque commemorating the liberation of Rome marks the place. Not far away in Piazza Montecitorio is the Camera dei Deputati, Italy’s parliament, which Bertani first entered in 1861.

More reading:

The death of Garibaldi

Why Giuseppe Mazzini was the hero of Italian unification

The novel that became a symbol of the Risorgimento

Also on this day:

1762: The birth of Giovanni Aldini, the physicist thought to have given Mary Shelley the idea for Frankenstein

1926: An airship leaves Rome on an expedition to the North Pole

1991: The Moby Prince Disaster


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9 April 2019

9 April

Gian Maria Volonté – actor


Brilliant talent who played ‘spaghetti western’ parts for fun

Gian Maria Volonté, recognised as one of the finest character actors Italy has produced, was born on this day in 1933 in Milan. Volonté became famous outside Italy under the pseudonym John Wells for playing the villain to Clint Eastwood’s hero in two movies in Sergio Leone’s ‘spaghetti western’ trilogy. In Italy, it was for the much heavier roles given to him by respected directors such as Elio Petri and Francesco Rosi that he won huge critical acclaim. He was a particular favourite of Rosi, the neo-realist director who directed in him in five movies, including the acclaimed The Mattei Affair (1972), in which he played an oil company executive who meets a suspicious death in a plane crash in Sicily, Lucky Luciano (1973), in which he portrayed the Sicilian-American Mafia boss controversially released from a 30-year prison sentence in the United States in return for helping the Allies with the 1943 invasion of Sicily, and Christ Stopped at Eboli (1979), in which he played the Jewish-Italian anti-Fascist writer Carlo Levi. Read more…

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Patty Pravo - pop singer of enduring fame


Venetian artist's career has spanned more than 50 years

The pop singer Patty Pravo was born Nicoletta Strambelli in Venice on this day in 1948. Pravo, whose first single, Ragazzo Triste, was released in 1966, has recorded 28 albums and 54 singles, selling more than 110 million records, making her the third biggest selling Italian artist of all time.  She grew up in an intellectual environment in Venice. Family friends included Cardinal Angelo Roncalli - the future Pope John XXIII - and the American poet Ezra Pound, who lived in Venice and would take the young Nicoletta for walks and buy her ice cream.  She would spend time too at the house of Peggy Guggenheim, the American socialite and art collector. Her parents enrolled her to study music at the Conservatory Institute of Benedetto Marcello from the age of 10 but by the time she was 16 she had left Venice for London, lured by what she had heard about the rapidly evolving pop culture.  She is still performing today. Read more…

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The Treaty of Lodi


When the battles stopped (briefly) in northern Italy

The Treaty of Lodi, which brought peace between rival states in the north of Italy for 40 years, was signed on this day in 1454 at Lodi in Lombardy. Also known as the Peace of Lodi, it established a balance of power among Venice, Milan, Naples, Florence and the Papal States. Venice had been faced with a threat to its commercial empire from the Ottoman Turks and was eager for peace and Francesco Sforza, who had been proclaimed Duke by the people of Milan, was also keen for an end to the costly battles. By the terms of the peace, Sforza was recognised as ruler of Milan and Venice regained its territory in northern Italy, including Bergamo and Brescia in Lombardy. The treaty was signed at the Convent of San Domenico in Via Tito Fanfulla in Lodi, where a plaque today marks the building, no longer a convent. Read more...

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